The Return of The Woolly Mammoths

The Return of The Woolly Mammoths

Max Pollard, Senior Editor

The Woolly Mammoth is an icon in both the Western and Eastern world, especially revered or feared in the groups of people who shared a habitat with them. Throughout history, humans have been fascinated by these furry behemoths who once shared the earth with us. First diverging from the Steppe Mammoths (Mammuthus trogontherii) about 400,000 years ago in East Asia, Woolly Mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) were distributed throughout North Asia, Europe, and North America at the peak of their range. Many different species of megafauna like the Woolly Mammoth have gone extinct throughout the Holocene or 6th extinction, beginning during the Last Glacial Period and continuing in modern day. Many different factors have contributed to the extinction of the pleistocene megafauna and we can’t be completely sure what killed them, but humans are undoubtedly responsible for much of this destruction. These extinctions are a sad and seemingly irreversible part of humanity’s prehistory, but perhaps this won’t always be the case.

Human activity is the primary cause of this extinction event, especially in modern day.

Many animals that died out early on in the 6th extinction, such as the many megafauna, were also largely caused by the climate change of the Last Glacial Period. The Pleistocene, better known as The Ice Age, is a geological epoch which lasted from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago which preceded the Holocene, the current warm period. The return to a warmer climate stressed many species to the point of extinction, though human activities likely served as the nail in the coffin for a large portion of the biodiversity affected by this climate change. The Woolly Mammoth is one of the most famous and largest members of this extinction event, pushed to its ultimate demise through over-hunting and a rapidly warming ecosystem. Woolly Mammoths and their relatives are a common find in the cave paintings of early man, their massive size instilling fear and respect in our primitive ancestors. The mammoths even influenced the beliefs and traditions of more modern groups, with both native Siberians and indigenous Americans having knowledge of and using the remains of these huge beasts. Despite the fact that the Mammoths’ extinction preceded recorded history, they still managed to leave their mark on human cultures around the globe.

Mammoths are a lost icon representing a more primitive, fantastic earth, but modern scientific advancements might allow this great creature to live again. A harvard team of scientists intends to do just that, and recent estimates predict they are only two years away from their goal. The scientists plan to create a mammoth-elephant hybrid embryo, splicing in mammoth traits responsible for their unique appearance. With the advent of new genetic engineering methods such as CRISPR, many previously impossible tasks are becoming a reality. While many ethical concerns such as, the hybrids ability to mingle with other elephants, and whether we should bring back any species from extinction at all, projects such as this one and others seeking to resurrect these animals are still pushing forward. Beyond just an attraction for fans of the Ice Age films, the introduction of these mammoth-like elephants could have many interesting effects on our planet and climate change. Most of Northern Eurasia was once a steppe and the scientists believe that reintroduction of steppe species like the Mammoth could help return these areas back into grasslands. Grass absorbs less sunlight than trees, causing the ground to absorb less heat and in turn keep the carbon pools and their greenhouse gases on ice for longer. Another possible effect of new, large mammoths populations is their trampling of snow, reducing the insulation of the earth provided by snow cover. Woolly Mammoths are beloved creatures in popular culture and were once an important part of our planet’s ecosystems, I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing them return. The extinctions caused by humanity and a rapidly changing climate are largely irreversible, but maybe the time of Mammoths hasn’t ended just yet.